Tiny Metal (Switch) Review – Strategic Win
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4
Release: 21st December 2017
After starting and seemingly abandoning his Kickstarter Project Phoenix, Hiroaki Yura founded a new studio to create the tactics game Tiny Metal, at least that´s the common belief. To discuss what´s right or wrong may be a topic for another day but it should definitely not go unsaid, when talking about Area35´s first game. Luckily, not much else is flawed about this indie title.
After an unstable peace, the flames of war begin to blaze anew. After a seemingly hostile attack, the empire of Zipang sends their first forces to strike against their enemy Artemisia. Now it´s up to artemisian commander Nathan to defend the border and strike a counter-attack, yet, he slowly begins to question his own country when more and more peculiar events occur during their offensive.
However don´t expect any kind of deep anti-war plot here, Tiny Metal may initially market itself as one but falls short in pretty much every aspect. Not only is the big story forseeable, with obvious set-ups and twists, but also tells itself in a very sluggish pace. Divided into 20 missions, connected by conversations and occasional bigger events portrayed in big artworks, the game mainly focuses on Nathan and his few companions, talking about rather boring stuff like upcoming attacks. The fact no character really grows beyond its initial characteristic, except Nathan who at least occasionally questions himself in a very flat manner, furthermore hinder the game from delivering anything near a compelling plot. Still, all of the dialogues take between 2-5 minutes, especially later on when Tiny Metal tries to end on a surprising climax, the uninteresting, unsurprising nature of the whole story let it seem more like a desperate attempt than a deserved finale. The sometimes awful english doesn´t make it better either.
Fortunately the rest about Tiny Metal is fantastic, able to truly catch the spirit of old tactic games. Naturally the game is turn based, controlled from a classic 2.5D perspective and tons of units. Every unit has their own movement range, attack power, strengths and weaknesses, and the goal is to eradicate the enemy. Naturally understanding the rock paper scissor design is a big part of combat. Although it wants to deliver on the premise of these nostalgic games, it doesn´t ignore any modern comfort functions in favor for old clumsiness. In fact, Area35 implemented beginner friendly features like the ability to revert movements and streamlined nearly everything.
Besides the base gameplay, it´s also possible to capture buildings for example. Depending on the amount of soldiers in the squad, which are practically the personification for its health, they will be capture faster or slower. Every city brings in money after each turn, that can then be spent in factories to produce units. Might sound a bit complicated but really isn´t once you´ve done it once. These two things are actually everything you need to play Tiny Metal, in its very core, it´s a very accessible approach to the tactics genre, full with little things to help you understand and have fun with it.
Yet to entertain more advanced players, as well as offering a longtime motivation, a ton of little mechanics are built around the core. For example, depending on an unit´s position, they do more damage or receive less, like in cities, high ground or even map tiles. An urban environment grants different bonuses than a forest. Some units require more skill to be useful, take the scouts for example, fast, fragile anti-infantry vehicles, requiring more complex planning to avoid bigger enemy groups, than simple soldiers. The correlation between air and land units and how they can be avoided or setting up traps when a tank is ambushing your infantry, Tiny Metal packs a lot tactical depth and it´s a ton of fun to experiment with it, while also learning more about the game.
The campaign missions try its best to teach you all these things and how useful they are, either by forcing you to use the environments by sending otherwise deadly forces or through simple mission tasks. Particularly the first few levels introduce new mechanics one after another, explain them with short dialogues and do a great job at teaching you the game without being too game-y. Occasionally there are mediocre missions, that explain so few things and rather let you suicide units into a wave of endless spawning enemies before revealing the true goal of the mission, almost certainly forcing a restart of the mission upon you. The bad english tutorial texts at some points also fail to introduce new mechanics properly or lose important details in translation.
Even though its translation may not impress, the presentation definitely can. Tiny Metal bursts a minimalistic but lovely graphic style, divided into different tiles, the world gets a “blocky” vibe, perfectly harmonizing with the rough, geometrical design of units or the UI. Sometimes wide open grass fields may look empty but luckily Area35 combines their various tiles and objects to avoid such uninteresting sceneries. Combined with the great looking portraits and easy to understand interface, it may not be the most stunning game but a damn beautiful one.
As the only downside to it, I would see the lack of online multiplayer and most importantly the two-sided Switch port. Playing the game on a big screen is great and I actually didn´t notice many differences from the Switch version to the PC one when it comes to visual fidelity. Unfortunately, the Handheld mode couldn´t convince me, since the game bursts with little texts or symbols, that quickly get pixelated on the tiny screen, either forcing you to zoom in to read them, or rely on memories. Honestly, picking it up to play on the go may only be a good idea if you´re willing to make this compromise.
Despite some bad press, Area35´s Tiny Metal is still a great game, offering a compelling tactics game, which nails the “easy to learn hard to master” design. Surely the plot is nothing too extraordinary, as well as the translation but I didn´t have so much fun with a turn based strategy game in a long time. All in all, there are definitely some flaws, yet, these shouldn´t hinder you from trying and enjoying this fantastic game. However, the PC version might just be the way to go for certain people here.
[Review Codes were supplied by Unties and Area35]